Belgium has announced it has imposed controls on its border with France amid fears of an influx of migrants.
Up to 290 police officers would be deployed along the border, said Interior Minister Jan Jambon. The move comes as a French court deliberates over the legality of plans imminently to evict thousands of migrants from part of the “Jungle” camp in Calais. “They’re already on their way here,” Mr Jambon was quoted as saying.
He said the controls, which entail a suspension of the EU’s Schengen accord allowing passport-free travel, would last “as long as necessary”.
The controls did not mean the border would be closed, he said, but “targeted checks” would be carried out – and those caught immediately deported. “We are going to guard the border in strategic places, chosen and known by police as potential smuggling routes.” Borders have been tightened and fences erected across Europe, in response to the arrival of more than one million migrants and refugees arriving on Europe’s shores in the past year. The majority have fled conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
No Tent Camps
French and British officials want to reduce the number of migrants in Calais and deter others from heading there in the hope of reaching the UK. Migrants gathered in the “Jungle” camp in Calais were told by authorities last week that they faced eviction from the southern portion of the camp. That has triggered fears in Belgium that the camp’s inhabitants will simply move on. “It’s our express intention to avoid tent camps like Calais in our country,” Mr Jambon said. He said 32 people had been arrested on Monday in Adinkerke, a Belgian village close to the French border.
In Calais, authorities said they would delay eviction plans until a court in Lille issued a judgement on the legality of the move, now expected on Wednesday or Thursday.
Officials continue to urge camp residents to take up alternative accommodation. But charities argue the migrants are being evicted in mid-winter with inadequate alternative accommodation. They joined 238 migrants to challenge the move in the Lille court. Conditions in the camp are squalid and its sprawling presence has become a controversial issue in both France and the UK.
The Jungle In Numbers
Camp population is disputed – Calais officials say it houses 3,700, while Help Refugees puts it at 5,497
Figures for the southern half (facing immediate eviction threat) are estimated at either 800-1,000 or 3,455
There are 205 women and 651 children (423 unaccompanied), says Help Refugees
Local government’s long-term aim is to have no more than 2,000 migrants living in Calais, says its chief, Fabienne Buccio
Tea, rivalry and ambition at ‘Jungle hotel’
Reports from the camp suggest many residents are determined to stay.
The southern side of the camp targeted for clearance, constitutes the cultural and commercial heart of the camp, with makeshift communal facilities such as women’s and teenagers’ centres, a mosque and a theatre.
French local officials and migrant lobby groups have different estimates of the number of people who would be affected.
The officials say the figure is between 800 and 1,000, while Help Refugees carried out its own “census” which it says revealed 3,455 residents in that zone.
The activist group says hundreds of unaccompanied children will also be affected if the move goes ahead. But Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the eviction would be done “progressively, by persuasion and with respect for people’s dignity”. Evicted residents have been told they must choose between moving into refitted shipping containers set up in the camp or to a migrant accommodation centre elsewhere in France.
Some migrants have baulked at moving into the shipping containers, saying they are unfit for purpose. Help Refugees says there are only 300 spaces left in the containers.
Leaving Calais is also a difficult decision for migrants set on reaching the UK, where many have relatives.